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Robert Pannebaker featured in Baltimore Sun Article on Valedictorians

Robert Pannebaker featured in Baltimore Sun Article on Valedictorians

Excerpted from "In a Class of Their Own"

By Peter Jensen and Stephanie Shapiro

Baltimore Sun Staff

Originally published May 19, 2002

Ah, to be valedictorian of your high school class, to bask in the limelight, to take the graduation podium and speak your mind to peers and parents alike, to know you are the best, A-number one, king of the hill.

Few ever get the experience. That's the point, after all. But what does it all mean the day after, a year later, or 35 years later? Is it your passport to success or an early peak, from which the rest of your life will be a quiet stroll downhill?

As we enter another season of high school graduations across Maryland, we decided to check in with eight former valedictorians and find out what they remember of that fateful day -- and what impact, if any, being valedictorian had on their lives.

'There is a reward for hard work'

Robert Pannebaker

Class of 1998

Eastern Technical High School

When Robert Pannebaker was a high school freshman and started thinking about where life might take him, he envisioned a modest career as a plumber, working on heating and air conditioning systems.

But it was also his nature to apply himself, and get the best possible grades. His father runs heavy equipment at a shipyard; his mother is a cashier and switchboard operator. They taught their son plenty about hard work.

Still, it came as a bit of a shock when, in the middle of his senior year, he was handed his class rank. Despite a senior year B in Calculus III, he was top of his class at Eastern Technical High School in Essex with a 3.99 grade point average.

"My jaw hit the floor," says Pannebaker, 22, a 1998 graduate. "I knew I'd worked hard. It just wasn't something that had crossed my mind."

Gradually, a whole new world opened up to him. He entered the University of Maryland, College Park as an engineering student. Not long after that, he landed an internship at an aerospace company in Beltsville that designs thermal systems for spacecraft and satellites -- a different kind of heating and air conditioning system.

Pannebaker is scheduled to graduate next year with a degree in mechanical engineering. He hopes to eventually turn his aerospace job into a full-time career.

"What I learned from high school was that if you're going to do something, do it to the fullest and do it to the best you possibly can," he says. "There is a reward for hard work."

May 19, 2002

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